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Watching My Friends Die: Confessions of an Advocate

When I was a sophomore in high school, a close friend of mine was hit by a car and killed while walking home one night after a football game. He was my first friend that ever died. He was also the first person I knew that died of something other than conditions relating to old age.

I remember the feeling, standing in line to go up to the casket, holding tight the hand of the person beside me, wondering if the deep grief I felt would pass. It was the only grief I really knew up to that point. I wish it was still all I knew.

A Heartbreaking Reality

Fast forward to last year. A couple months after I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, my friend and former mentor died after a long struggle with metastatic pancreatic cancer. At that point, I had been to funerals for friends and family and felt like I could handle it. I went to the funeral and as I sat down, I felt my own mortal vulnerability for the first time since my diagnosis. I saw her up in the casket, and it became about me in my mind. Was that where my casket would be? Would our mutual friends who were there be sitting in the same seats? How much time do I have left? Would I be next? Will this be me?

After the funeral, I went home and saw that yet another person in one of my MBC Facebook groups had died earlier that day. I mentally couldn’t handle it and decided I needed to distance myself of all things and people having to do with cancer. I needed a break before I had a total breakdown. I told people from my groups I was taking a hiatus. I thought if somehow I distanced myself, it would save my heart from breaking and make me more resistant to the fact that I, just like the other people in my groups, was dealing with the fact that most of us have less than 3 years to live from the time we are diagnosed.

Learning to Go On

A few days went by, then a week. I started to believe that I could somehow separate and compartmentalize the chaos and sorrow that cancer had brought into my life. I still spoke to a couple of friends from my support groups, but overall I stayed away for about two weeks, an eternity in MBC group world. That’s when it happened.  One of the few friends I still spoke with on my hiatus took a turn for the worse and, within a couple of days, was gone. Again, I saw my mortality; would this be my fate? Was I delusional to believe the narrative that I may be one of the lucky ones to outlive the dismal prognosis of MBC?

This time was different, it was even more personal. I chose to not recluse like before. Separating myself was doing nothing but keeping myself from people who were like me: people who knew fear like I did, who felt personally victimized when a friend with the same prognosis  died. We were in it together.  We needed each other. I needed to see the people who would take action through their grief.  The people that keep pushing knowing that at least 113 of us still fall prey to metastatic breast cancer every day. This grief, this anger I feel watching my friends constantly dying, drove me to be the advocate I’ve become. I don’t want to die and I can’t keep watching my friends die. Even as I write this, I can think of at least 3 women I have advocated beside who may not be alive to read this when it is published.

We are in this together!

The reality is, my friends are still dying and even though I am stable today, the uncertainty of tomorrow is a very real caveat of this disease. This is why I advocate and will continue to advocate for a cure and a better life for all of us living with MBC.

 

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